Traveling through Cambodia reveals a vibrant palette of color. Rural rice fields shimmer like emeralds; Buddhist monks’ saffron robes glow in the sunlight. Cambodia’s ancient temples are erected from sandstone, and are cloaked in soft green moss or are dripped with light shadows. Khmer food is as stunning in color as it is in flavor, mixing green cucumbers, red chili peppers, yellow mangos, and white rice to create recipes that gratify even this particular American girl. But the people of Cambodia, their warmth and beautiful smiles, bring the most color of all.
Despite the beautiful scene, life is no picnic for the average Cambodian. It remains one of the poorest countries in Asia and it is a tough reality for much of the population, as they battle it out against the whims of nature, and sometimes of their politicians, who are known to illegally evict citizens from coveted land. Income remains desperately low for many Khmers, with annual wages in the hundreds of dollars, not thousands, and public servants such as teachers are unable to eke out a living on their meager salaries.
Yet there is hope for the
Kingdom of Cambodia. There are two faces in Cambodia, and while one is dark and gloomy, the other is shiny and promising. For nearly every illegally established brothel, there will be a new NGO school offering better education, or a new clean-water initiative to improve the lives of the average villagers. Such is the yin and yang of Cambodia, a country that both inspires and dismays.
Photos credited to my friends Bunnath, Aaron, and Ptr. Poleak.